Absolutes for Effective Programming

Effective programming is represented by an increase in overall fitness, not just gains in a single area. As athletes, we are greedy.  We don’t just want to be strong, fast, good at gymnastics or weightlifting, or short or long tasks, but we want to be good at everything. Programming for general physical preparedness means that as athletes, we are ready for whatever task life can possibly throw at us. All of our capacities should be on the rise together.  Therefore finding the right balance, and hitting all sides of the spectrum can be a daunting task for a programmer. The best way to make sure we are spreading out the love so to speak, and chasing “fitness”, is by playing with the stressors (workouts) that we are exposing people to. The adaptations (results) correlate to the type of stress you are putting on the body. Here are some absolutes for getting the most “bang for your buck” out of G.P.P. programing.

Pair Complementary Movements Together in Workouts in the Form of Couplets or Triplets

Pairing two or three movements that do not contain the same movement functions (ie. hip mediated movements with shoulder mediated movements, or pushing with pulling) allow the athlete not to be limited by the localized muscle fatigue in workouts (ie. “my arms just can’t do another pushup”), but rather it are taxes metabolic engine that fuels the activity( ie. “I can’t breath, my whole body is aching”).  The point is to develop theses energy systems that create a molecule in the body called ATP, that fuels life’s efforts. Athletes that continue to move, transition, and do work will express higher intensities. For example it is not so much that the athlete lacks the muscle stamina to perform another rep, but it is the ability to effectively utilize oxygen or sugars at such an intensity that causes the overall “awfulness”.  It is the high intensity efforts that allow athletes to develop a more efficient metabolic engine, yielding positive systemic adaptations.

Keep Most Workout to 15 minutes or Less, Alternate Weights and Modalities

Keeping most workouts between 5 and 15 minutes and alternating loads allows athletes to get results on both sides of the fence, both aerobically and anaerobically. Aerobic work is that which requires oxygen as the primary source of fuel. It usually means longer efforts with lesser power output and load ie. 5k run. This results in increased endurance, reduced body fat etc.. Anaerobic work doesn’t require oxygen as fuel but rather uses sugars, lactate, or phosphogen to provide energy. These efforts are usually shorter with higher loads ie. barbells or explosive efforts. This results in good stuff like increased muscle mass, bone density and strength and muscle stamina. By utilizing strategies that alternate modes and efforts through the application of high intensity intervals, athletes can get stressors both aerobic and anaerobic in the same workout.


90% of people that come in the gym don’t need a specialized program. They need fitness. There is no magic formula or complex algorithm that is the key is success, in fact it is quite simple: practice full body high powered functional movements, push yourself to your mental and physical limits, and change up the duration, loading, and tasks your perform. This will give you big results in many different areas, setting a strong base of general physical preparedness. And it is likely that for most these results will continue to improve for a very long time, before they plateau as long as the consistency and intensity are there. But lets say that you reach that plateau and find that while many areas of your fitness are strong, you have identified some weak spots that are not congruent to your other capacities. It is possible to work on those weaknesses while maintaining your overall fitness within your program. Here are some ways to fix that chink in your armor.

Method #1

Add extra work in this area in the warm-up or cool down of your workout. For example if you struggle with pull-ups you could warm up with some kipping pull-up skill, or you could cash out of your workout with a finisher of 2 sets of max strict pull-ups 3 times a week. If you struggle with the Olympic lift you could work on positions and skill with a barbell in the warm up or add some short extra lifting work after the workouts 3 times a week.

Method #2

You could program the capacity you lack more frequently in your workouts. 3 days a week could be a workout focusing on this area. For instance if you need your strength, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays could be just dedicated strength days with your other two training days focusing on overall fitness, not just strength.

Whatever it is you choose to specialize in remember, the goal isn’t to be a specialist. Specialists are not fit. It is easy to fall in love with one area and loose site of the overall picture. After a period of time evaluate whether what your have chosen to focus on is better, and when it is time to become a generalist again…because generalists are freaking FIT!


Tier system programming is based on the premise that a training program can be “Written for the best, and scaled for the rest.” In order to capture an effective program that drives results for all, as well as provide achievable options to “meet athletes where they are at”, tier systems can provide a responsible framework for grandmas to elite athletes to get the most from a program.  Avoiding certain skills, capacities and movements, creates an exact blueprint for a program’s failure.

If increasing fitness in a comprehensive manner is the goal, than the skills, moves, or capacities that people are most intimidated and challenged by are also the areas that they stand to gain the most in terms of their fitness. Therefore a true fitness program should include all elements presented in an achievable yet challenging format that drives skill development and progression. People love getting their first muscle up, kipping pull-up, or handstand push up. It is these results; doing something that you truly did not believe that you could do, that make the CrossFit program an effective, enduring, and powerful life experience for people.

Program Examples:

Workout: “Cindy”

20 Minute AMRAP

  • 5 Pull ups
  • 10 Push Ups
  • 15 Air Squats

Tier 1: As Rx’d

Tier 2: 20 Minute AMRAP

  • 5 Banded Pull ups
  • 10 Push-ups from the knees
  • 15 Air squats

Tier 3: 20 minute AMRAP

  • 5 Jumping Pull ups
  • 10 45-degree push-ups
  • 15 Air Squats

Workout: “Diane”

21,15, 9 Reps of

  • Deadlift (225/185)
  • Handstand Push ups

Tier 1: As Rx’d

Tier 2:

  • Deadlift (135/95)
  • Pike Push ups

Tier 3:

  • Deadlift (95/65)
  • Seated Dumbbell Presses

Another important part of this process is skill work, which creates solidarity in the group because it can be done as a whole class and serve to develop technique as well as come up with scaling options. This is done in conjunction with the warm up and is critical for refining technique of advanced athletes while driving progression for novice and intermediate athletes. This should be “fun” composed of drills stemming from very basic foundations to advanced progression. Here, no one is left out and the coach can address athletes individually to get them familiar with the next step.

Example of Skill work for “Diane”

Option 1:

  • Tripod headstand
  • Tripod headstand to extended legs
  • Tripod headstand to kipping handstand or a plank

Option 2:

  • Wall walk as high as athletes are comfortable going
  • Inverted handstand hold on a wall or pike pushup hold
  • Handstand negative to an ab-mat
  • Full handstand push up

Deadlift PVC Skill work

  • Empty Barbell
  • 5 minutes to work up to a weight you can perform for 15 unbroken reps

In both these options all athletes can get exposure being upside down with an option for infinitely more challenging scales down the spectrum. The bottom line is that if athletes are not practicing the skill in some way, or challenging themselves wherever they may be at, progress will cease and they will never acquire the skill.

Most CrossFit workouts are 15 minutes or less, which leaves coaches upwards of 45 minutes to develop these skills on a daily basis. Very few gyms have athletes walk in the door with muscle ups or the ability to do workouts at Rx’d weight. Strong programs have most athletes acquiring all skills at the 1-3 year mark with the process outlined above.